Ask questions when picking a cell phone

The majority of people 65 and older buy cell phones for emergency use only, according to a survey by the American Association of Retired Persons.

Even though emergency-use-only calling plans may be less expensive than full-service plans, seniors may want to consider the more comprehensive plans when purchasing a cell phone. For example, using a cell phone while traveling may save you money because many hotels place surcharges on local and long-distance calls made from the hotel. By using a cell phone, though, you can bypass those fees.

Another point to consider when selecting a full-service, cell-phone plan is whether the plan offers unlimited local and long-distance calling at no charge. While some providers make you wait until 9 p.m. for unlimited calling, others now offer unlimited calling beginning at 7 p.m. on weekdays and free minutes all weekend.

So before you sign on the dotted line, here are some important facts to keep in mind:

• Find out the length of the contract. Most contracts require a one- to-two year commitment. Once you sign up, it often is very expensive to cancel before the contract term expires.

• Keep your current number. If you currently have a cell phone and want to switch service providers, ask to keep your current number. You need to do this when you switch your service. If you ask after the fact, it may be too late.

• Find out what type of network your provider has. If you’ll be calling people in other parts of the country, make sure your carrier operates on a nationwide network. Even if you’ll just be calling within your community, make sure the plan covers where you will make and receive the most calls.

• Compare calling plans. Many plans offer free unlimited mobile-to-mobile, in-network calling. For instance, if a family member also is a customer of your cell phone provider, then all calls — no matter what time of day or night — could be free.

• Consider how many minutes you’ll need. The cost of a cell-phone plan is based on the number of minutes you sign up for and can range from 300 to 4,000 minutes. The challenge is to purchase the lowest-cost plan for your needs and be careful not to go over your purchased minutes. If you go over your purchased minutes, you’ll have to pay per minute for every minute you exceed, so think about when you’ll be making most of your calls.

• Unlimited calling on nights and weekends. When picking a cell-phone plan, don’t forget to ask when unlimited calling begins during weekdays and if unlimited calling is available on weekends.

• Choosing a phone. Many wireless carriers offer free or low-cost phones when signing a yearly contract. When comparing calling plans, ask if the phone is included or discounted when signing a yearly contract. Also ask if they offer phones with a larger keypad and display screen.